A few days ago Tom and I were chatting about how much fun it would be to start a new Ars Magica roleplaying game saga. So there being a CJ involved, this happened, and quickly. Tom, Ed and I discussed the setting and decided on the Stonehenge Tribunal (roughly speaking England & Wales) and as I have long wanted to do a game which covers the Angevin/Plantagenets from Henry II through Richard, John and Henry III we decided on a start date of 1160, and a fast saga with a few years between stories. The changing of the seasons and usurpation seemed appropriate themes, and we therefore decided to go for the players as new magi arriving at a Winter covenant that had declined in to a crumbling wreck. Tom wanted to set the saga in York, and so the stage was set.
The first real issue was whether to use the setting published already in David Chart’s excellent 4th edition Tribunal book, Heirs to Merlin. We decided not to, but instead created our own covenants, simply because the players were all so familair with Blackthorn, Voluntas, etc, etc and therefore we thought it would be fun to do something different. We created a number of covennats – the actual method used I shall not discuss just yet, in case the players (or their characters) work it out in the course of the saga.
The players covenant was named Domus Alba Rosa, hopefully close to the Latin for the House of the White Rose, and attached to St. Peter’s school in York, a real urban school founded back in the Dark Ages and still going strong today. The physical setting was two townhouses over a set of Roman catacombs in Micklegate, with a near by hostelry the Blue Boar as a hang-out for grogs and consortes and the schoolroom across the river near th Minster. As Tom and I will both be running adventures, we spent a lot of time discussing the details – a statue of Mithras was found near here, so we decided there must be a Mithraeum, and then the Legion of Mithras I had detailed in The Mysteries Revised Edition seemed a sensible theme for the covenant (though we had other themes we wanted to include as well form our covenant design ideas).
I created the covenant using 600 build points and Covenants: medium power as long in decline. Tom did a splendid job on sorting out what the vis sources are, so I concentrated on books, and the mechanics, before creating the personalities. Here are my notes —
Magi Domus Rosa Alba
The Magi of the House of the White Rose, York
The once great covenant has now fallen in to ruin and dilapidation. While the townhouses remain structurally sound, warm and comfortable and the catacombs habitable, age has wreathed the corridors in cobwebs, and smoke has long since darkened the diamond pains of glass. Across the river the School hall is maintained better, but even there the dust of centuries has gathered on the wooden benches of the schoolroom high above the shops, and the wooden steps up creak ominously under the weight of the masters.
The Library high in a well tarred and isolated attic of Crosskeys House has the books piled on tables, but they are few compared with days past. Every year visitors borrow books to aid them in some heroic quest, and every year they take vis and disappear off to fight terrible foes of the Order surely it would be churlish to ask them to replace it? Most of the resources appear to have vanished to other Covenants, even other Tribunals. Meanwhile the magi have forgotten about glory: their grogs no longer have weaponry, or armour, and are little more than the best brawlers in the Blue Boar Tavern, and the school is utterly neglected, save by Thomas, who dreams of a day when the Covenant will again be a force to be reckoned with.
There are currently (1160) three magi at the Covenant – Henri the Quaesitor, the long term visitor Leona of Bjornaer, and the Jerbiton Archmagus Helena Mavrocatalon, a Byzantine nobleman/woman who has lived in the Tribunal for over 80 years, and speaks fluent English when the mood takes him/her.
Her Eminence Helena Mavrocatalon Constantinopolis, Imperatrix Rosa Alba, Archmaga Jerbiton, Poetess, Warrior, Hoplite, Heroine, and Defender of the Order.
Helena as we shall call her for short (but NEVER make this error) is a 138 year old Byzantine nobleman, of an illustrious family, closely related to the current Emperor of the Romans, Manuel I Kommenos – these are the Byzantine Greeks in Constantinople in case anyone is confused! As such she adopts imperial affectations, and is incredibly vain, effete, and always heavily made up with a ridiculous wig and vast amounts of jewellery. Despite all these things, she is still quite clearly male, and following a Twilight episode decades ago can never change her gender, or have it changed, by magic.
Eight decades ago she arrived in York, and made quite a splash at her first Tribunal, soon becoming deeply involved in Tribunal politics. Her exquisite manners, fawning catamites and eunuchs and incredible arrogance soon made an impact: everyone in the Tribunal knows he is a super-bitch beyond compare, but a bitch who throws the most incredible orgies, and whose decadence is far beyond anything the Catholic Church could ever stomach. Several Archbishops of York condemned her from the Minster pulpit: she laughed at them, and her fabulous wealth and insatiable desire for trinkets and luxuries soon swung the citizens behind this astonishing creature. Even today the Masters of every Guild would come to her immediately if she called upon them – but as he has not been twenty years dead as far as they know, they are unlikely to do so.
Her “death” was nothing to do with hiding her longevity from the mundanes, or mortals as she disparagingly calls them, of York. Whatever her reason, her seclusion has been long, but not uneventful. A skilled political player, a terrible foe, and a sworn defender of the Order of Hermes, her anger is terrible, her vengeance burns, and those she classes as enemies rarely live to the next Tribunal. Many regard her as a vain arrogant transvestite maniac, but any brave enough to say so will die in a Wizard’s War pursued with incredible energy. She has slain eight magi in justly declared Wizard Wars: the furthest was in the Rhine Tribunal, and mocked her in a drunken after dinner conversation in his home covenant.
Yet there is not a Hoplite in the Tribunal who would not spring instantly to her defence, or unquestioningly follow her orders. Only Flavius, the Exarch of Tremere at Mons Castrum may have more influence over the loyal Hoplites. She is the Persian of Mithras, Commander of the Legion in the Tribunal, and a legend among them. She always affects silver robes or dresses prominently displaying the sign of Taurus, and her influence stretches even beyond the Tribunal borders – wherever there are Hoplites, she has friends. It is rumoured her own House, Jerbiton, are far less enamoured of her though, and the dislike extends to her loathing for the covenant of Aedis Rex, even redcaps from that covenant being received with scorn and treated with the very barest of courtesies required by the Order.
She knows many secrets though, and uses them well, her network of spies and agents rival those of any Tytalus.
Leona of Bjornaer, Aged 59.
If anyone rivals Helena (but don’t call her that) in regal arrogance, pride and deadly contempt for fools, it is Leona of Bjornaer. She is a Captain of Mithras, and does not care who knows it – and she has been here four years on her Mystery Cult’s business, guarding the Mithraeum, and seeking mysteries of Constantine. She originates from the Levant, and is half-Arab, half crusader but unlike Helena does not respond well to questions about her parentage – it is popularly rumoured she is the daughter of a King though. No one can upstage her, talk down to her, or try to control her – except Helena. Everyone thought the two maga would hate each other – instead they have become incredible friends.
Her religion remains a mystery, and yet she is known to have a sympathy for the Jews of York, leading some to wonder if she may be a secret Heathen. No one has ever seen her in church, but no one has ever been foolish enough to comment (Helena does not go either, being of the Orthodox Christian rite).
Whatever Leona’s business in the Tribunal, she is very discreet, but has on several occasions been spotted padding silently around the alleys in the moonlight. The Archbishop of York has heard stories of a lion in the city, and they have been so persistent he has offered a reward t anyone who can capture the beast for his planned menagerie – something which Leona derives much amusement from.
A silent, merciless killer who speaks no English, she has little time for the covenfolk and less for the farmers whose sheep she preys upon… Don’t mess with her, or you might perish.
Henri the Quaesitor, aged 63
Henri has been at the covenant since his childhood, and was the apprentice of Green Stephen, a Bonisagus with a research interest in faerie matters who died mysteriously on a Christmas night some fifty winters ago. Henri himself was adopted by Petros the Just, a Guernicus Quaesitor, and served his final two seasons of apprenticeship with Petros before Gauntleting in that House. He has a bad reputation as poorly trained throughout House Guernicus, and is widely believed to be incompetent. Selected as an emissary to the Loch Leglean Tribunal he was effectively banished there for three terms of seven years, and on his return he became something of a recluse, fearing being sent abroad once again as an embarrassment to his House. No one asks him to defend their case, and no one seeks his counsel on legal matters. His sole duty is approving Hoplites adventures, and dealing with te administration and paperwork for the Legion on behalf of Helena who treats him like an unpaid skivvy. He is well known as an incompetent yes-man, and even within the Legion of Mithras has never advanced beyond the second rank – a Bride, he wears the Green cloak and silver lantern broach to display his status as an investigator of the Legion.
Those who know him well know that the Covevant’s school and Scriptorium would never run without his careful attention, and that really he is the effective working member of the covenant, though he would never dare says so It was he who invited the magi to come to Domus Rosa Alba, presumably on behalf of Helena and Leona, as he would never presume to do anything without their command.
Next up we needed the other covenants, so I wrote them up based on Ed and Tom’s notes.
Covenants of the Stonehenge Tribunal
Stonehenge has a fairly isolationist tradition, and some of the Covenants are not overly sociable, Many do not welcome visitors, and even trade in magical resources is relatively uncommon. The more civilised (read Southern English and Yorkshire) covenants often look to the Normandy Tribunal for support and visitors. This insular aspect to life in the Tribunal is reflected in the Tradition that only two magi from each Covenant are invited to attend each Tribunal, but they of course carry the sigils of the others. Any magi may attend f they so wish, against this tradition, but it is considered rude and unnecessary. Politics revolve around maintaining the status quo, and are positively sleepy by other Tribunal’s standards, with “minding your own business” being considered a high virtue here.
Aedis Rex: Bury St Edmunds – in the shadow of the Great Abbey, visitors should enquire at the Prior’s House, and make the sign of Intellego. Home to three Jerbiton Magi, a Quaesitor and two Redcaps.. Non-Gentle Gifted magi should take lodgings outside the town and send a messenger instead. Said to have the greatest library in the Tribunal of books on Abilities, and known to be a centre for the Pythagorean mysteries, which welcomes students who can pass the examinations. Rufus of Nantwich leads the magi here, and is a master of Disputatio, that is public debates. He engages in lengthy correspondence with magi all over the Tribunal, and is always willing to assist young magi working on research projects.
Atrium Mercatus – Londinium – With a Gifted Mercere, four Redcaps, a Quaesitor, two Jerbiton, two Bonisagus, two Ex Miscellanea and three Verditius, this is the site of the Mercer House for the area. Said to offer excellent hospitality, good opportunities for visiting the fleshpots of London and yet a strangely warm and familial welcome to members of the Order. Vis and potent magic items can be purchased or be exchanged here at better rates than the rest of the Tribunal offers. Tribunal Meetings are held here, deep within the Dominion aura of the city, rather than as in other Tribunal’s at the Praeco’s home.The actual Mercer House is a rambling house in the centre of the city, filled with young apprentices: it is said that Atrium Mercatus takes more apprentices than anywhere else, perhaps because of the Orphanage they run which proves a useful source of Gifted kids.
Cad Gadu, Domus Magna of House Ex Miscellanea, on Lake Bala, North Wales. Home to many Ex Miscellanea magi, and two redcaps. No one not invited can find the magical glass island upon which the covenant stands, which must be situated in a regio? Non Ex Miscellanea are not welcomed here, though Redcaps may visit freely, and many Merinita and Bjornaer have been invited to attend specific meetings. By tradition any visitor who has genuine business with the Primus Ex Miscellanea (currently Immanola) may travel to Pont Mwnwgl-y- llyn and blow the horn suspended from the hazel tree there to summon Immanola to a meeting in London at Atrium Mercatus that same day! The secrecy of the covenant breeds suspicion, as does the many deaths reported among its members.
Sagittarii: West Wales – Criamon clutch set in Egryn, West Wales. If you are not a Criamon you don’t know any more about this place. If you are you might. The clutch has five members, and is one of the largest Criamon centres in Northern Europe. No one messes with them, as they have a reputation for extremely lethal defence of their vis sources and privacy, and a House Criamon Quaesitor (who may be unique in the whole Order in that capacity) is one of the five inhabitants: he is known to be extremely good at Hermetic Law. Three decades ago Mons Castrum believing they may have Diedne links declared Wizards War against the inhabitants, and lost three magi without coming close to the valley where they dwell. The surviving attackers were invited in, shown around, and left their wounds tended and their fears of Diedne influence dispelled, but word spread their were worse horrors defending this place. Many believe they have tamed a dragon, but the magi of Mons Castrum never broke their oath of silence about what they saw there that they swore to be allowed to concede the Wizard’s War and depart in peace..
The Wild Woods – Forest of Dean – home to an exiled Rhine Ex Miscellanea and several natives of that tradition, as well as two Merinita, Joanna Silvae a young maga is the person visitors usually deal with. Uninterested in politics, they welcome vis trade and are said to have some curious spells and magic items they will trade lab texts for; but the focus on Herbam magic leaves many magi not willing to make the effort. They are said to have shaped the very woods to serve their needs, and live lives of idle pleasure, but they politely resist any attempt to make them participate in the Tribunal, and les politely throw out any who attempt to reduce their hard won independence. Recently it was rumoured they approached the Tribunal of Novgorod asking to be accepted as a covenant of that Tribunal, but the truth of the rumour is unknown.
Heremus: Cumbria – somewhere in the wasteland, a mixed covenant. Home to several Ex Miscellanea, a Flambeau and four Bjornaer magi, but governed by a Tytalus, Hugh, who is said to be utterly mad. The Loch Leglean Tribunal occasionally accuses them of raiding across the borders, but they have plenty of vis so it is hard to see why they would bother. They are on excellent terms with the Chapel of the Green Knight (see next entry). The actual position of the covenant seems to be elusive, and finding them is a problem to all but the most experienced redcaps. They have some long term plan which is little known to outsiders but involves heroic effort.
Basilicola Equites Viridis: Wirral – Covenant of the Chapel of the Green Knight – a legendary location, home to many members of House Tytalus, Jerbiton, Merinita and Flambeau. The Knights loathe the Tremere of Mons Castrum with a passion, but are rumoured to have upset Sagittarii recently by adopting a Criamon exiled from there in to their fellowship. Many have wondered what the Criamon maga did to get herself expelled: to get chucked out of House Criamon you must be REALLY weird.
Eruditio Palus – Somerset Marshes, near Glastonbury – a few level-headed mages try to gather vis and cut through the mysticism surrounding Glastonbury. Home to the legendary monk and cartographer Egbert, known for his lewd dancing which led to his expulsion form his monastery. Several Bjornaer and Bonisagi make their home here, and they are said to have many excellent books on the Arts and welcome visitors who are willing to risk catching swamp ague. There are always a Quaesitor based here, though why no one can say, as it is little involved in politics, mundane or Hermetic.
Mons Castrum Shropshire, Bridgnorth – in the caves underneath Bridgnorth’s table mountain, a warren of wizards keep their fortress ready. Home to the Tremere Exarch Flavius and five followers (this is a highly defensible position) plus a couple of martial-minded Flambeau associates. Flavius is Praeco by virtue of being the oldest magi in the Tribunal – he is 136 years of age in 1160, and still capable of riding his magical steed which is said to be able to run upon the winds, and a fearsome warrior and an even more fearsome master of Rego magics.
Alba Rosa – Your covenant. The name means White Rose.
Woodpecker covenant, on the North Yorkshire Moors so-called as they started off “guests” of Walter l’Espec aka “Walter the Woodpecker”, founder of Helmsley castle in 1120, Rievaulx abbey (2 miles away, a major Cistercian place with a fine wool produce and a forge) and Kirkham Priory (Augustinian). This wealthy and ambitious builder and generous philanthropist is clearly too good for mages to pass up. He was raised up by Henry I, controlled Northern England for a few years with Eustace FitzJohn At this point the castle is made of wood (and the town is called “Hamlake”) and owned by Walter’s sister, Adelina and her husband Peter de Roos..
Medicata Insula: Lindisfarne – Holy Island covenant, a mixed group of mages who live in a high Dominion aura, yet somehow cope. Physically isolated by both tide and distance, they rarely turn up to Tribunal meetings. A Bonisagus maga called Isabella who lives here is known to be an expert on Hedge Magic traditions of the Order, and little liked by the rest of the covenant. Why she stays no one knows.
Well we only had four days from deciding to play the game, to actually starting the first session, so we have been working very fast, but I think we have a fair start here which should give us a few months play potential at least.So far Luke has designed his Mythic Companion, a Faerie Doctor called Sam, Kev played Colt the Smith his Verditius magi and Lloyd’s 22 year old Magister in Artibus has turned his back on Oxford University to become a school master at St. Peter’s York. Lloyd has said he will write the first session up, so I will doubtless put that on my blog as well, but so far it’s been a lot of fun and they have only just arrived at the covenant! I’ll update from time to time with notes on how the game is going – gaming si an important part of my life, and I rarely talk about my rpg games here, but I guess a few of my fellow gamers might be amused or find something useful.
Oh I did a player handout – as the game opened on Christmas Day 1160 with the character’s trudging through the snow, I gave them a quick historical introduction to major events of that year…
The Year 1160
The Royal Family
The year just ending has been a peaceful one in Stonehenge. King Henry II is married to the former wife of his greatest enemy, Louis of France. The beautiful Eleanor of Aquitaine is now 38 years old, but eight years ago to everyone’s amazement following the annulment to of her former marriage she ran away with King Henry. Their first child William died a few years ago, aged three, but they have three healthy sons – Henry aged seven, Richard aged three and Geoffrey aged two, as well as a four year old daughter, Matilda.
This year King Louis of France’s second wife (the one who replaced Eleanor) Constance of Castille died in October, giving birth to a daughter, Alys. She already had a child with Louis, the three year old Margaret of France, and that child is in the care of King Henry and Queen Eleanor, who promptly declare her engagement to their eldest living son, Henry. King Louis is furious, and marries Adele of Champagne almost as soon as his former wife is buried, still desperately hoping for a male heir. At the moment Young Henry of England (the four year old) may inherit France if King Louis dies!
War with France
In November the three year old Margaret f France was married to Young Henry (aged seven), with the Papal Legates Cardinal Willaim of Pavia and Cardinal Henry of Pisa speaking their vows for them, at a castle in Germany. Immediately the Templar held castle of Gisors which was due to be a wedding present had to be surrendered by France to the English King, and Count Theobald of Champagne (Louis’ new father in law) and King Louis of France started to strengthen their castles and prepare for war at Castle Chaumont. King Henry then arrived with his army and the French nobles fled, so that castle too falls to the English. Further war between the Angevin Empire and France is now inevitable, despite, indeed because, of the royal marriage of the infants which may one day unite the two thrones.
The death of Pope Adrian (an Englishman) leads to a strange situation: the English and French cardinals elect Alexander as Pope, but the German Cardinals claim their candidate Octavian won. There are now two Popes, both of whom claim to rule the Church. In England and Wales Alexander is considered the legitimate Pope, buit in Rome cardinals ort ricval factions still fight on the streets.
Another School Founded
Derby, England sees a new school founded, yet another rival to St Peters, York by Walkelin of Derby. There are just too many schools these days, where will all the school children be found to fill them?
Raynald of Chatillion captured by Saracens
The Crusader Lord, Prince of Antioch by marriage to Constance of Antioch has been captured by the Saracens. Few mourn: four years ago he raided Cyprus, and when the Patriarch of Antioch (a leader of the Orthodox Church and great holy man) condem3ned this attack on the Christian island, Raynald had him seized, stripped naked, covered in honey, and left in the burning sun on top of the citadel. When the Patriarch was released, he collapsed in exhaustion and agreed to finance Raynald’s expedition against Cyprus. It was during a raid against the Saracens that Raynald was caught – they are said to be holding him prisoner in a dungeon,
War in Italy
Holy Roman Emperor (& King of the Germans) Frederick Barbarossa takes Crema ,Italy, following a cruel siege, as part of his campaign against the independent Italian city-states.
I might write one of these for the 1220’s sometime as well, as that could be handy for a lot of Ars Magica sagas. Sadly Tom who was the creator of a good half of this could not make the first session, owing to snow, but he will be at next week’s game, when the character’s really get to know their new home 🙂